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What is the Nature and Social Norm within the Context of In-Group Favouritism?


  • Harris, D.
  • Herrmann, B.
  • Kontoleon, A.


In-group favouritism behaviour is observed everywhere around the world and previous research has shown that this behaviour is also easily triggered in a laboratory in various contexts. However, little is known about why different magnitudes of in-group favouritism are observed across societies. In this paper, we use a new allocation experiment to examine the nature of social norms within the context of in-group favouritism behaviour. In this experiment, a decision-maker has to decide only once how to allocate a fixed amount of resource between each of the three members of her own group and each of the three members of the out-group, whilst the decision- maker's own payoff is not affected by her decision. Three treatments are implemented: in the first treatment, only the members of the in-group can punish the decision-maker. In the second treatment, only the members of the out-group can punish the decision-maker. Finally, in the third treatment, only an independent third-party observer can punish the decision-maker. The aim of these treatments is to test whether there is a prevailing social norm which dominates the behavioural standard within the context of in-group favouritism and whether this mechanism varies across different subject pools, namely Thailand and the UK. Compared to a baseline treatment with no punishment opportunity, we observed that among the Thai subjects in-group favouritism significantly increased once the in-group members were given the opportunity to punish the decision-maker. The threat of punishment from a third-party punisher also increased in-group favouritism in Thailand. However, when only the out-group members had the opportunity to punish, no change in in-group favouritism behaviour was observed. On the contrary, within the British subject pool, when the out-group members had the opportunity to punish the decision-maker, we observed a decline in in-group favouritism as well as a marked shift towards an equitable outcome. The threats of punishments from the in-group members and the third-party, on the other hand, did not have any impact on in-group favouritism behaviour in the UK. The results suggest that within the Thai subject pool, there appears to be a prevailing `in-group bias norm' which is strongly enforced within and outside the group. Within the UK subject pool, however, it is less clear what the prevailing norm is. Whilst the threat of punishment from the out-group members who directly lose out from favouritism behaviour appeared to significantly reduce this behaviour, an uninvolved third-party was not willing to incur a cost to punish this behaviour. This interesting result indicates two possible explanations: first, in-group favouritism, in contrast to selfish or opportunistic behaviour, may not considered as a strong enough violation of a social norm; and second, the norm of egalitarianism within the context of favouritism may still be `evolving'.

Suggested Citation

  • Harris, D. & Herrmann, B. & Kontoleon, A., 2010. "What is the Nature and Social Norm within the Context of In-Group Favouritism?," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1062, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
  • Handle: RePEc:cam:camdae:1062

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Butler Jeffrey V., 2014. "Trust, Truth, Status and Identity: An Experimental Inquiry," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 14(1), pages 1-46, February.

    More about this item


    Social Norms; In-group Favouritism; Group Behaviour; In-group Punishment; Out-group Punishment; Third-party Punishment; Experimental Design;

    JEL classification:

    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior

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